The Kenwood Press
Guest Editor: 09/01/2018

The promise of SDC: A community call to action



By Tracy Salcedo for the SDC/Eldridge Committee of the Glen Ellen Forum

It’s time for the state of California to keep its promises.

It’s time for us to make sure that happens.

Since closure of the Sonoma Developmental Center (SDC) in Eldridge was announced in 2014, a broad-based coalition of county officials and community members have been working diligently to ensure that in its next iteration, the property remains a viable Sonoma Valley treasure. The spectacular parcel encompasses more than 700 acres of open space abutting Jack London State Historic Park and Sonoma Valley Regional Park. It’s a critical wildlife corridor and a huge contributor to the health and well-being of neighbors in Glen Ellen and beyond. It also includes a campus comprised of about 140 buildings over another 200 acres, some of which could seamlessly transition from current uses to similar uses, providing housing and business opportunities for survivors of October’s wildfires and others.

Following release of the SDC closure plan in 2015, department officials and state legislators have repeatedly assured us the SDC site will not be “surplused,” or sold to the highest bidder. The state has also said it is committed to a robust, community-driven land-use planning process. The SDC Coalition, spearheaded by First District Supervisor Susan Gorin and pooling the expertise and passion of county officials and a spectrum of community organizations including the Sonoma Ecology Center, the Sonoma Land Trust, the Glen Ellen Forum, the Glen Ellen Historical Society, and the Parent Hospital Association, has been building consensus on options that preserve the property’s extraordinary values as both open space and a redevelopment opportunity.

We are pulling our weight. The state is not in this alone.

Recently, the state indicated its interest in transferring SDC to Sonoma County control. However, that offer did not include a financial commitment to help the county shoulder the costs of managing and caring for the property, or for land-use planning both in the interim and over the long term. This reticence would be difficult to swallow in the best of times, but for a county recovering from a natural disaster, a dearth of state funding makes the offer unworkable.

In the best-case scenario, the state would make good on its promises by:

• Retaining ownership of the property for the next several years while the land-use planning process takes place;

• Budgeting sufficient funding to pay for ongoing maintenance and security, including (super-important) mitigation of fire hazards;

• Securing funding to finance the preparation of a specific plan for future land uses;

• Transferring the 700 acres of open space lands now to California State Parks and/or Sonoma County Regional Parks;

• Working with Sonoma County and the community coalition now to allow interim uses on the site. This could both generate revenue to offset maintenance costs and, more importantly, ensure there’s a presence on the property to offset risks of vandalism and vagrancy. Precedents for interim use already exist in Bay Area communities, in San Francisco’s Presidio and on Treasure Island. The key is uninterrupted transition from present use to a similar use: Classrooms, residences, offices, recreational facilities and more could transition immediately, presenting an opportunity to revitalize, preserve, and protect this amazing asset.

• Helping Sonoma County create a plan for transition and long-term management of the site. The county, still reeling from one of the most destructive wildfires in California’s history, simply does not have the resources.

And so we come to the call to action.

The SDC will close by the end of December 2018. Please join the more than 1,200 people who have signed a petition asking Governor Jerry Brown to address this situation by approving funding for SDC now – before the end of his term. Add your signature by Sept. 7 to ensure your voice is heard. You can access the online petition, posted on Change.org, through several portals:

Eldridge for All: eldridgeforall.org

Transform SDC (Sonoma Land Trust): transformsdc.com

Sonoma Ecology Center: www.sonomaecologycenter.org

A sample letter to the governor is available on the Transform SDC website. Customize or send as is; the point is to let the governor and state legislators know how much this community is counting on the state to keep its commitment to a community-driven process for redevelopment of SDC, and to provide supportive funding for that process. Contacts for state officials are provided. Forward a copy of your letter to eldridgeforall@gmail.com; if needed, we will personally deliver hard copies to our elected representatives in Sacramento.

You can also support the effort by linking the petition to your social media outlets. A new video focused on interim use is poised to go live; hit the link on Eldridge for All, and post that as well.

The key is to spread the word. This isn’t a local issue. California has always been a leader in the preservation of its remarkable landforms and historic sites. From Yosemite to Malakoff Diggins, from the Presidio to Sugarloaf, from Anza Borrego to the Redwood National and State Parks, collaborations are possible. This can work!

We have a similar jewel to protect. The state of California has a promise to keep. Let’s make sure that happens.